By Tony Attwood
Robert William Benson, known as “Bob” was born in Whitehaven in Cumbria on 9 February 1883.
His first club is recorded as Shankhouse of the Northern Alliance, and then Shalwell (a district near Newcastle – but I can find no record of the club), and Wikipedia suggests that at the same time he worked as a coal-miner. He signed as a professional for Newcastle in 1902.
He played only one game for Newcastle (v Liverpool) and left for Southern League Southampton in 1904 for a fee of £150, playing for the club for the first time on 1 October 1904 in a draw with Brighton.
Descriptions of him include “snuffing out [the opposition’s] moves with his sense of anticipation“.
He was also given the job of taking penalties, and clearly had a great sense of humour since he apparently adopted the process of running the full length of the pitch before kicking the ball. But unfortunately the joke turned a little sour as he kept missing, and so was relieved of his duty as penalty taker after a while.
He played 19 times for Southampton before leaving to move to Sheffield United (then in the First Division) for a fee once again of £150.
This time he did stay – for eight years. He also got his penalty taking sorted for he score 20 during his time in Yorkshire ,playing for them 283 times.
You may recall seeing Bob Benson’s name in the article on Jo Lievesley as a player in the England tour of South Africa in 1910. He played on that tour and also played for England in a full international in February 1913 against Ireland.
And so to Woolwich Arsenal – whom he joined in November 1913 after the move to the north of the river. He played away to Bristol City on 29 November 1913. It was a 1-1 draw in front of a crowd of 15,000.
He played at left back but for the final game of the 1914-15 season (the last match before the war and his last match for the club) he played at centre forward with HE King moving to number 8 in a patchwork end-of-season game. He scored twice in a 7-0 win at Highbury. (There are suggestions elsewhere that he made a number of appearances at centre forward, but in league terms it was just the one).
The Football League was suspended in 1915 for the duration but The London Combination was founded in 1915 in order to provide some entertainment for those still in the country. Normal rules of registration etc were abolished and players played where there was a vacancy and a game.
Bob Benson went to work at Royal Arsenal when the league stopped and on. On 19 February 1916 he went to a London Combination match between Arsenal and Reading at Highbury. Joe Shaw did not make it to the game, and Benson took his place, although he had not been playing since that match against Forest. He collapsed on the pitch in the second half and died in the changing rooms a little later of a burst blood vessel. He was just 33.
It is said he was buried wearing his Arsenal shirt, and a testimonial was held for him against the Rest of London. 5000 turned up and the proceeds went to his widow.
He played 54 first class games for Arsenal over the two second division seasons.
The team for the final game was…
1: Goal: J Lievesley
2: Right back: J Shaw
3: Left Back: R W Benson (this article)
4: Right Half: GM Grant
5: Centre half – P R Sands The first captain of The Arsenal at Highbury
6: A Graham
7: J Rutherford
8: J Flanagan
9: S J Stonley
10: D Slade
11: Outside Right: C H Lewis
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